Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Cosmic Slacktuary

Without a doubt, Spiritual Perspectives & Human Facts (SPHF) is Frithjof Schuon's most dense and compact work. This is a new translation of his third major work, originally published in Paris in 1953. I've probably been working on it for a month or so, but I'm only up to page 48. This is not because the book is more difficult than his others -- in many ways, it's his most accessible work -- but because it's so rich. He writes with such gem-like precision over such an extraordinary range of philosophical, religious, and spiritual matters, and yet, does so in a remarkably unsaturated manner, so that your own thoughts are provoked rather than foreclosed. He puts you in a timeless frame of mind, and timelessness takes time.

And when I say "gem-like precision," that naturally sounds like a cliché. But I don't know any other way to express it, because I mean it literally. What in my opinion places Schuon head and shoulders above most theologians -- there are a few others -- is that just where they become vague, wobbly, or sentimental -- or the converse (which amounts to the same thing), rigid, jargony, and authoritarian -- he writes with the utmost clarity, rigor, and exactitude. And yet -- and this is the key -- the "certitude" he conveys in his writing has nothing in common with the oblivious certitude of those inappropriately confident "fundamentalists" (including some of his own prominent followers!) who also speak with precision, but in such a way that they simply superimpose dogma on reality, or (k) on O.

In this regard, it is possible to be right for all the wrong reasons. Where Schuon cranks out little handmade gems, these spiritual counterfaithers simply reproduce giant monuments -- like cheap facsimiles of Michelangelo's David. But I don't think that O can be gotten "on the cheap," which is what makes it so much more tricky and difficult than merely obtaining empirical scientific knowledge, which most anyone with an average IQ can acquire.

You might say that Schuon is "undogmatically dogmatic" in the same way that math is, which also combines the maximum of universality and abstraction. This is an ideal I am usually aiming for in my writing. Of course, in order to appreciate that fact, you have to read it in the proper spirit. It's not at all like normal reading, which for most people is simply for pleasure and distraction when it isn't for extracting information -- the bottom line -- as rapidly and efficiently as possible.

If you approach Schuon in this way, you're wasting your time, because you'll miss the essential personal experience (is there any other kind?) without which the writing is like a skeleton with no flesh or blood. With Schuon's writing, it's always BYOB, or bring your own blood. (Speaking of which, have you noticed the common trait shared by all of our bloody incomprehending trolls, which is to say, their bloodlessness? This is an example of a precise observation that will inevitably sound vague to the bloodless.)

SPHF is a collection of writings that differs from Schuon's other books, in that "instead of articles as such it consists of extracts from letters, notes from our reading, and reflections arising independently of outward circumstances and organized only later in the form of chapters." He concludes the preface by reminding the reader that truth "belongs to no one while belonging to everyone; it is an immanent gift as well as a transcendent one," which is another way of saying that transcendent truth can only be activated, assimilated, and internalized in an individual mind that somehow already possesses it -- which is why real vertical learning always involves equal parts remembrance and forgetting.

In whatever Schuon writes, he is equally mindful of the form as he is of the content. This is not just for purposes of aesthetics -- unless it is understood that aesthetics is, as he says, "nothing other than the science of forms." This is another thing that sets him apart from most theologians, in that the very form of his writing conveys the content of whatever it is he is discussing -- similar to the manner in which music is a form that is indistinguishable from its own content.

Not only is form "an important part of intellective speculation," but the rightness of proportions "is a criterion of truth or error in every domain into which formal elements enter." Which is why real truth must be beautiful -- although beauty is not necessarily true, being that it is possible to idolize beauty, which is what distinguishes aesthetics from mere aestheticism, or the "unintelligent cult of the beautiful."

Spiritual beauty is "limitlessness expressed by a limit," which is why perfect beauty cannot surpass itself. Elsewhere he writes that sacred art allows "spiritual influences to manifest themselves without encumbrance." At the same time, it allows man the possibility of "seeing what he should be" -- which implies the dangerous corollary of deviant art, which carries for humans the risk of being what we see.

Schuon writes of sacred art that it "is made to serve as a vehicle for spiritual presences," whereas wholly profane art "exists only for men and by that very fact betrays them." He points out that a true sanctuary for man is any place that "is constructed to facilitate resonances of the spirit, not oppose them." On the one hand, man has an inveterately searching, restless intelligence that seems never satisfied. And yet, there is also "something in our intelligence that wants to live in repose." Thus, a spiritual sanctuary is a "place" where our soul and intelligence are able to find comfort and rest (which is the true meaning of the sabbath).

I guess I like to think of One Cosmos in that way -- as a sort of virtual spiritual sanctuary where weary travelers can find active rest for their soul and restful slacktivity for their intelligence. Where you can relux and call it a deity.

... out from under the toilsome tablets of time, reverse worldward descent and cross the bridge of darkness to the father shore. Floating upstream alongside the ancient celestial trail, on your left is the dazzling abode of immortality, on your right is the shimmering gate of infinity.

15 Comments:

Anonymous Jim said...

Perhaps someone can help me with this. I read OC everyday and really appreciate the insight, my problem as a Christian is with Frithjof Schuon, while his words are inspirational; I have never been able to buy one of his books because I keep coming back to the fact that he was a Mohammedan. I mean, how can anyone believe that Mohamed was selected by God to be his prophet when he was a bloodthirsty child molesting murdering sack of s**t that demanded the death of apostates? I’m very conflicted on this and would appreciate some thoughts, am I confusing the message with the messenger? Thanks Jim

11/24/2007 10:33:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Even if Mohammed had never existed, God's quirky criteria for selecting prophets would be noteworthy. In any event, if you actually want to know why Schuon felt Islam was salvific, you would have to read Schuon, for he has his reasons (bearing in mind that he was nobody's idea of a normative Muslim, being, as he was, the head of a Sufi order).

How about forgetting what you think you know, and just employing Walt's Razor:

1- Is it useful?
2- Is it important?
3- Does it help?

11/24/2007 10:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Jim said...

Bob

Thanks I will get some to Schuon books and give it a try.

Jim

11/24/2007 11:00:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

You might start with a collection of his Writings on Christianity, which will either deepen your understanding of your own faith, or they won't. Much, of course, depends upon where your particular soul and intelligence find rest. In my case, I could no more find rest in most of what passes for Christianity than I could in the corner mosque.

11/24/2007 11:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Jim said...

"In my case, I could no more find rest in most of what passes for Christianity than I could in the corner mosque."

I second that.

Jim

11/24/2007 11:38:00 AM  
Anonymous ximeze said...

Oh goodie, Bob is back.
With all the nonsense out there, trying to get in, really was not sure I'd last until Monday.

Jim said: "I have never been able to buy one of his books because......"

I bought copies of Mein Kamph & Das Kapital because I wanted to know what they said Infact, not hearsay filtered thru somebody else's eyes & mouth.

Did not turn into a Nazi or a Commie by reading them. Now I can better tag the true sources of the ideas & words that a load of Lefties believe are contained in the US Constitution & Bill of Rights.

"my problem as a Christian is with Frithjof Schuon..."

Sorry Jim, to me your comment reeks of fear: what, you'll take on writer's bias as a form of coodies by exposure? If you're concerned about bias, you might start with "Christian" bias against what can be viewed as source material for spiritual growth. Where did you get that? Is there a list of 'approved' reading? Hiding from the 'world' will not make you safer, just ignorant & unprepared.

Speaking of Getting Into People's Heads,
great review by Bruce Thornton of VDH which he titles:

How Freudian! Why mother Europe has forsaken America

A review of Uncouth Nation: Why Europe Dislikes America by Andrei S. Markovits (Princeton University Press, 2007)

http://www.victorhanson.com/articles/
thornton112007.html

Here's a chance to read what Euro nutjobs use as justification for their chronic Anti-Semitism & Anti-Americanism. This review had me cracking up & as soon as I finish this comment, I'm off to the Library to pick up the copy on reserve for me.

11/24/2007 11:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Jim said...

Ximeze, I have no fear of coodies or actually much of anything of this world, my question is - how can someone be a follower of Mo and have insight to O. Nothing more or less just a question of authenticity. I'm not the brightest bulb on the string and much of what goes on here is above my pay grade, just don't want to waste my time on books on the soul when the writer don't got one. Jim

11/24/2007 12:17:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Jim--

Ultimately, as per my post today, it really doesn't matter what Schuon nominally "was." In the final analysis, all that really matters is his affect upon you. He had many Christian followers, including, for example, Jame Cutsinger, who had no difficulty reconciling his Sufiism with their Christianity. You wouldn't reject the American constitiution just because a few of the people who signed it were deists -- or because it is nowhere mentioned in the pages of the Bible.

11/24/2007 12:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Jim said...

Bob

I agree and have ordered the book you recommended today, I will give it a try, most of our reading assignments have been hard for me to get through so I don't take them lightly. Jim

11/24/2007 12:38:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

It may be a challenge -- you have to "elevate" your game, since he's not going to come down to us. Try considering this froth from Walt to prepare yourself.

11/24/2007 12:45:00 PM  
Blogger Mizz E said...

--->Spiritual beauty is "limitlessness expressed by a limit," which is why perfect beauty cannot surpass itself. Elsewhere he writes that sacred art allows "spiritual influences to manifest themselves without encumbrance." At the same time, it allows man the possibility of "seeing what he should be" -- which implies the dangerous corollary of deviant art, which carries for humans the risk of being what we see.

Schuon writes of sacred art that it "is made to serve as a vehicle for spiritual presences," whereas wholly profane art "exists only for men and by that very fact betrays them." He points out that a true sanctuary for man is any place that "is constructed to facilitate resonances of the spirit, not oppose them." On the one hand, man has an inveterately searching, restless intelligence that seems never satisfied. And yet, there is also "something in our intelligence that wants to live in repose." Thus, a spiritual sanctuary is a "place" where our soul and intelligence are able to find comfort and rest (which is the true meaning of the sabbath). <---

In the Telegraph today: Pope to purge the Vatican of modern music a.k.a. as kitsch

11/24/2007 02:32:00 PM  
Anonymous dilys said...

I agree "cooties" is not an entirely fair characterization of Jim's concerns.

It's a question of criteria. Is the criterion "rest," or "plausibility," or the surface credibilty of the exponent(s), or rumor, or some other sense of Truth?

Distinguishing among the motives of
-- spiritual ambition,
-- thrill-seeking spiritual hedonism,
-- confirmation that one is already "right",
-- generalized eschatological anxiety,
and
-- the state of genuine inquiry with a tentative, humble willingness to watch and wait
seems essential. My own faith is that that last condition, if energetic and sincere, will not lead us in the end astray, while waiting to know as we are known. Inasmuch as we have presumably decided that the universe is at root friendly.

The accomplished contemplative Bernadette Roberts maintains that Christianity replicates itself by a metaphorical "tap on the shoulder," by which one "meets and knows." The function of the Church is primarily to safeguard the doctrine so that the seeker knows what is actually on offer, and provide the sacramental on-the-ground care for its adherents.

Much of what passed for my own Christian background consisted of little in-depth insight, only rote rehearsal, sentimental emotion, and propaganda-like efforts to immunize the flock against anything not "trademarked;" without on the other hand adequate scrutiny of what was handed out as food [mixed metaphor apology]. But to give it its due, Leslie G.'s care, while venturing seriously into a faith, to avoid too much mixing and matching of approaches, commends itself. It's probably partly a matter of temperament, and, like everything, it's all in the timing (as David Ives says in his excellent view through the peepholes in this looneyverse.)

Anyone who believes in prayer might read Schoen, or anyone else, while asking for guidance and any necessary caution, S. being neither holy writ nor just another guy at the diner. As it happens, the more sincere questions I pose in the Christian context, the more interest -- if not 100% agreement -- I find with Schoen. And occasionally he offers certain meaningful insightful tags which can anchor Christian practices, full of pith that has been overlooked by the conventional potboiler-sermon careerist churchy establishment. Schoen won't "save" anyone. But, then, neither will a Bible verse, even contorting ourselves into a willed adrenaline response. They're both mere ripples while they remain on the level of a mere thought-epiphenomenon. It's the whole-person response, both affect and effect, the sets off the im/explosion.

Jim can, I believe, explore with an open mind, asking Is this true? and sorting propositions into "Oh, wow, probably true, let's let it marinate," "who knows?" and "not for me now." We do this with all our other reading.

And today's FrothFromWalt can't be beat as a sensible antidote to the pervasive posture of suspicion with which we moderns are likely by default to attack challenging, philosophically-high-octane material.

11/24/2007 03:10:00 PM  
Anonymous dilys said...

More on-thread as to art and beauty, talking of criteria. One of the challenges in I encounter as a generalist in discussing these things is a convincing grasp of the agreed-upon issues in aesthetics in order to plausibly condemn really vile art, as Orwell addresses in connection with Salvador Dali.

He is an exhibitionist and a careerist, but he is not a fraud. He has fifty times more talent than most of the people who would denounce his morals and jeer at his paintings. And these two sets of facts, taken together, raise a question which for lack of any basis of agreement seldom gets a real discussion.

The point is that you have here a direct, unmistakable assault on sanity and decency; and even - since some of Dali's pictures would tend to poison the imagination like a pornographic postcard - on life itself. What Dali has done and what he has imagined is debatable, but in his outlook, his character, the bedrock decency of a human being does not exist. He is as anti-social as a flea. Clearly, such people are undesirable, and a society in which they can flourish has something wrong with it.


(from the traditionalist-Catholic artist Daniel Mitsui's blog, The Cardinal and the Unicorn)

11/24/2007 03:37:00 PM  
Blogger walt said...

Actually, Dilys nailed my motivation for coming here: "...thrill-seeking spiritual hedonism..."

Isn't that why we all come?

Bob wrote, "Thus, a spiritual sanctuary is a "place" where our soul and intelligence are able to find comfort and rest (which is the true meaning of the sabbath)."

I thought it was interesting to compare that language to Schuon's, a few sentences earlier in the post, describing a sanctuary as, "...constructed to facilitate resonances of the spirit..."

Speaking personally, the resonances you provide at OC are what give the comfort and rest! In other words, the comfort and rest are "active, not passive."

And, thanks for the referral(s) to FFW; glad the post was helpful/useful.

11/24/2007 04:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have recently experienced the negative vibration of deviant art and witnessed first hand the impact such madness can iflict upon consciouness. Typical Hollywood garbage, yet it also had the license of a murderous video game. It made me sick, especially because there was a part of me that was drawn to and titillated by the anguish inducing vitriol. Mind parasites, pain-body, call it what you will. Either way, my lesson was learned, and from here on out I am going to consume more mindfully in with my senses. I will share something that I wrote with the hope that leaves you with a feeling of Love arising within Awareness.

Alive by Jason Turner

I can see the faces in Shakespearean tree-tops and angel-wing clouds. Comical and terrifying and beautiful.
A glimpse of tomorrows dreams and nightmares projecting from me with heaven sent vision.
Under its spell I gaze at the possibilities of a breathing reality, a Universe within silent Light. Traveling along imagination into hyperspace skies and rainbowed night-times. Witnessing beyond with mature awareness. Alive to the One celebrated in countless blessed forms. Then tears of overwhelming joy chirp with vitalizing laughter as they spill from my eyeslike kundalini waterfalls. Open and free and accepting to the humming life that is ever present, I inhale the bliss of this moment. This Form. And smile serenely at the divine face of Being.

11/25/2007 09:51:00 AM  

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